Royal Society education chief forced out in creation row

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Following misleading reports that Rev Professor Michael Reiss had advocated that creation should be taught in science class, he left his post as director of education at the Royal Society, the UK's national academy of science.

Last week at the British Association's science festival Rev Professor Michael Reiss said that creation should not be ignored if it come up in class. Professor Reiss, who was director of education at the Royal Society, said that since a substantial number of pupils have concerns about the issue, they are likely to "detach from" science if their concerns and world view are not addressed. Creation should not be taught, he said, but if it comes up, teachers should be encouraged to explain the science of evolution. He also said that students should be taught the nature of a scientific theory - that it does not simply mean a hypothesis about the way things might work, but a rigorously supported system of ideas that fit with the available evidence.

The Times of London reported him as saying that Creationism should be taught in science classes as a legitimate point of view. This provoked a storm of protest from a group that included two Nobel Laureates and other scientists who strongly oppose the teaching, or even the discussion of creation in science class.

Yesterday the Royal Society said in a statement that some of Professor Reiss' comments had been "open to misinterpretation", and that this had damaged the Society's reputation. "As a result, Professor Reiss and the Royal Society have agreed that, in the best interests of the society, he will step down immediately as director of education." The Royal Society went on to say: "However, if a young person raises creationism in a science class, teachers should be in a position to explain why evolution is a sound scientific theory and why creationism is not, in any way, scientific."

The chief executive of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Roland Jackson, said that the Royal Society should have supported Professor Reiss and used this opportunity to further a reasoned debate. "I was at the actual discussion, and what I heard him say, however it has been reported, was essentially the position advocated by the Royal Society," Jackson said.

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